President’s Remarks, Banquet and Annual Meeting, March 31, 2012, Manchester, NH

Michael Thompson’s message yesterday rang true with me for many reasons… as a parent, as a camp director, and also from the perspective of ACA New England. I frequently find myself thinking about the value of independence.

As a parent…

  • Do I send my daughter to overnight camp?
  • Is she ready?
  • Am I ready?
  • Am I giving my children enough freedom?
  • Or looking at myself in the mirror when I ask my wife why the heck my daughter’s picture wasn’t in her camp’s daily photo album for the third day in a row

As a camp director…

  • Have I designed an environment that fosters independence in our campers?
  • Have I given my staff enough freedom to shine?
  • Do I give the parents of our campers what they want…or what I believe they should get?
  • Do I really need to provide my parents daily photos of their children?

But I also think about the value of independence through the lens of ACA New England.

Late last year we succeeded in working out the final details to officially become an Affiliate of ACA National. What will life be like as an affiliate? In my mind, it will offer us a healthy balance of independence (an attribute that we New Englanders value highly) with a level of support from and connection to a larger organization with common goals that has national presence and influence. We preserve our independence that enables us to be innovative, agile, and self-directed, yet we are connected to a larger entity that is devoting it’s resources to new programs and initiatives that fully benefit us here in New England as well. In my mind it offers us tremendous opportunity.

Against this backdrop, I’d like to use a few minutes of our time this evening to highlight some of the successes that we’ve accomplished in the year gone by and a view of what lies ahead.

Let me begin briefly at the ACA, Inc. level…

  • ACA is in the later stages of a national geographic consolidation process that will build consistency, collaboration, and strength
  • Professional Development Center – providing ever increasing opportunities for camp professionals to learn critical skills and competencies through a growing number of vehicles beyond conferences including webinars and e-institutes for credit
  • Public Policy in-roads in Washington – with a focus on being proactive, not only reactive when the needs arise. The work of Susan Yoder, Steve Sudduth, and many others have enabled an increased level of involvement and influence in high level conversations about education reform, youth development and childhood obesity
  • Membership growth
    • Free individual membership for staff. It worked. It brought new people into the organization who found value and have chosen to stay and have purchased and utilized ACA products and services

Here in New England …

  • Affiliation Agreement…much of our internal work in the last year has been directed towards defining our new relationship with ACA as an affiliate. Now that we have the formal arrangement signed and agreed to, we have been able to roll up our sleeves in developing new strategies for working together.  Creating multiple avenues for effective communication is a priority, as is the need to recognize the shared value proposition. ACA has a national presence, has strengthened its brand, and offers many products and services that we in New England benefit from. At the same time, we in New England offer tremendous value to ACA through our ability to deliver services at the local level, through our relationships with state associations, and through our human capital both at the staff and volunteer levels.
  • Camp Champions Celebration…we’ve now officially moved from a modest pilot program to a full fledged campership program that will enable 100 at-risk youth to attend accredited camp this summer. There’s incredible value here…certainly for the children…but also for us as an association. While the dollars come in and pass through to our camps. The visibility created by this annual event, the connections made, the media attention, the partnerships considered, the doors opened…all of this directly benefits the growth and strength of ACA New England.
  • Website redesign…after months of hard work, we’ve launched a redesigned website that’s professional, logically organized, and has the capacity for allowing us to provide even greater content to our members and the public.
  • Find-a-Camp Search tool…while this is a national product that was launched over the past few months, it truly is a New England-driven success. The earliest conversations and planning for the development of a robust search engine that would surpass any other tool out there…that started within public outreach discussions here in New England. As the idea gained traction, it was Bette who led the charge and ultimately devoted countless hours on behalf of ACA, Inc. to achieve an outcome that benefits ACA camps across the country

As for what lies ahead…

  • Continued commitment towards our growth strategies…
    • Summer Fund partnership…we have been sought out by the Summer Fund – the organization that we honored yesterday afternoon with our Community Honor Recognition - as the summer camp experts whom they want to partner with. More specifically, they want us to provide them with tools and resources to measure the quality of the camps they fund each year, to train their directors in effective camp management practices, and ultimately to raise the quality of experiences that are provided to over 22,000 at-risk youth in the Greater Boston area.
    • Additional partnerships…closer collaboration with state associations, building our value in the out-of-school time sphere, working with organizations like the Summer Fund, maintaining communication with initiatives like the Maine Camp Experience
    • Member Camp Pilot program…being worked on right now by ACA, Inc. with the involvement and input from New England volunteers and staff that will be a concrete step towards rethinking how we provide access to different organizations.
    • Increasing individual memberships through the national free first year membership campaign that has been continued into a second year
  • Continue to develop new ways to meet the emerging needs of our members
    • Capitalizing on one of our greatest strengths by providing increasing opportunities for education, training and professional development, using both traditional vehicles but also finding new delivery methods as well. At the same time make our membership aware of the increasing value of ACA Inc.’s Professional Development Center
    • Supporting communication and collaboration throughout all six New England states
    • Developing new sources of non-dues revenue that allow us to reduce our dependency on camp dues and membership fees

How is this going to happen? In the same way that successes happen within our camps…

  • By valuing our tradition, our roots, our existing known strengths
  • Through innovation, generating creative ideas, keeping our eyes open to new possibilities, and pushing ourselves to act on new ideas even when we’re not entirely sure how far they’ll take us
  • Because of an outstanding, committed and dedicated staff that we are so fortunate to possess here in New England
  • Through a spirit of volunteerism like no other that I’m aware of… a collection of hard working individuals who take on hours of challenging work because they believe in it.

And we will also grow because of breakthroughs. What do I mean by breakthroughs?

I recently listened to the works and ideas of Sarah Kay, a spoken word poet with unique talent and an interesting perspective on how we achieve innovation and growth.

She described how there are two kinds of breakthroughs…the accidental breakthrough…the epiphany…the one that can catch you by surprise. And those that come about because of hard work, dedication, setting your sights on a goal and working towards it until you achieve it. Both are equally valid and important at all ages. Children are particularly adept at the former and take time to learn the latter. We as adults often place high value on the latter, and disregard the importance of the former. We all need to be open to both kinds of breakthroughs in our lives in order to move forward.

So I encourage you to join me in the year ahead by being open to both kinds of breakthroughs here in New England. Dedicate yourselves in your own camps and other endeavors to hard work, to instilling the value of intentional effort towards a specific goal in your campers, and to your volunteerism with ACA New England.  In doing so, I know we will elevate the impact of ACA New England and the overall value of the camp experience.

But at the same time, don’t forget to be open to accidental breakthroughs…the sudden realizations, the ah-ha moments when two disconnected ideas suddenly merge together into a perfect harmony. It is this open-mindedness that is equally critical in building upon our current success.

I look forward to our year ahead and as always have been energized by our conference together.

Nat Saltonstall, President of the Board, 3/31/12